Deepwater Coral HAPCs

To safeguard the importance and uniqueness of deep water coral habitats in the South Atlantic, the Council designated five areas, encompassing more than 23,000 square miles, as Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in 2010.  The designation process was a lengthy one, which began with a proposal from the Council's Habitat and Coral Advisory Panels in October 2004. Management measures to help protect these sensitive habitats include a prohibition on the use of fishing gear (bottom longline, bottom and mid-water trawl, dredge, pot, and trap), anchoring by fishing vessels, and possession of deep water coral.
Download maps of the coral HAPC areas.

A brief description of four of the five deep water coral areas is provided below summarized from General Description of Distribution, Habitat and Associated Fauna of Deep Water Coral Reefs on the North Carolina Continental Slope (Ross, 2004) and Deep-Water Coral Reefs of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina: A Summary of the Distribution, Habitat and Associated Fauna (Reed, 2004).  The fifth area, the Blake Ridge Diapir, encompasses a methane seep ecosystem that has not yet been well described.

1. Cape Lookout Lophelia Banks
The northernmost area (Bank A) contains the most extensive coral mounds off North Carolina.  The main mound system rises vertically nearly 80 meters over a distance of about one kilometer.  Sides and tops of these mounds are covered with extensive Lophelia pertusa.  The second area (Bank B) contains mounds that rise at least 53 meters over a distance of about 0.4 kilometers. They appear to be of the same general construction as Bank A, built of coral rubble matrix with trapped sediments.  Extensive fields of coral rubble surround the area.  Both living and dead corals are common to this bank, with some living bushes being quite large.  Over 43 fish species and over 11 fish species have been observed along Banks A and B, respectively.  In addition, these areas support a well-developed invertebrate fauna.

2. Cape Fear Lophelia Bank
Coral mounds within the area rise nearly 80 meters over a distance of about 0.4 kilometers. They appear to be of the same general construction as Banks A and B (described above), with extensive fields of coral rubble surrounding the area.  Both living and dead corals are common on this bank.  Over 12 fish species have been observed, including the greatest numbers of large fishes off North Carolina, and a rich invertebrate fauna.  This is the only area off North Carolina where wreckfish have been observed.

3. Stetson /Miami Terrace
This largest of the deep water coral HAPCs encompasses a large region off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and East Florida to the Miami Terrace off of Biscayne Bay and extends eastward to the 400-meter depth contour.  Below are descriptions of the main areas that have been observed within the HAPC.
Stetson Reef

This site contains hundreds of pinnacles along the eastern Blake Plateau offshore South Carolina.  Over 200 coral mounds occur over this area.  This area supports a 152 meter-tall pinnacle in 822 meters of water where submersible dives discovered live bushes of Lophelia coral, sponges, gorgonians, and black coral bushes.  One of the tallest Lophelia coral lithoherms known occurs in this area.  HBOI video

Savannah and East Florida Lithoherms
This site comprises numerous lithoherms at depths of 550 meters with relief up to 60 meters that provide live-bottom habitat.  Submersible dives found that these lithoherms provided habitat for large populations of massive sponges and gorgonians in addition to smaller invertebrates which have not been studied in detail.  Some ridges are nearly completely covered with sponges.  Swordfish, sharks, and blackbelly rosefish are known to occur in the area. Further south, nearly 300 coral mounds from 8 to 168 meters tall have been documented. HBOI video
Miami Terrace
The Miami Terrace and Escarpment is a Miocene-age terrace off southeast Florida with rugged hardbottom habitats and rich communities of bottom-dwelling organisms in 200-600 meter depths.  Dense aggregations of wreckfish have been observed, in addition to blackbelly rosefish, skates, sharks, and dense schools of jacks.  Lophelia mounds are also present at the base of the escarpment, within the Straits of Florida.  The steep escarpments, especially near the top of the ridges, are rich in corals, octocorals, and sponges.  HBOI video

4. Pourtales Terrace
Like the Miami Terrace, the Pourtales Terrace is a Miocene-age terrace.  Located off the Florida Reef Tract, this area contains sinkholes, including the Jordon sinkhole, which may be one of the deepest sinkholes known.  A total of 26 fishes were identified from the sinkhole and bioherm sites including tilefish, sharks, speckled hind, yellow-edge grouper, Warsaw grouper, snowy grouper, blackbelly rosefish, red porgy, drum, scorpion fish, amberjack and phycid hakes.    HBOI video

5. Blake Ridge Diapir Methane Seep
The Blake Ridge Diapir Methane Seep CHAPC is a unique benthic habitat inhabited by chemosynthetic organisms. This CHAPC is 800-1000 meters (2,625-3,280 feet) deep and differs from other HAPCs in the region.  The seep was first discovered in 2001 by a NOAA sponsored research cruise using the submersible Alvin.  Methane coming out of the sea floor quickly freezes to form a hanging methane hydrate deposit.  If the deposit is brought to the surface, where the water is warmer and pressure is less, the deposit turns to methane gas.   The area was established as a CHAPC to protect the area’s unique ecosystem.

Shrimp Fishery Access Areas
Shrimp Fishery Access Areas exist within the largest of the deep water coral areas, the Stetson-Miami Terrace CHAPC.  Access to a small portion of the historical fishing grounds for the royal red shrimp fishery would have been restricted by designation of the CHAPC.  Although the royal red shrimp fishery is not directly managed by the Council, participants in the rock shrimp fishery occasionally target royal red shrimp.  To allow these shrimp fishermen to continue operating in traditional fishing grounds, the Council established Shrimp Fishery Access Areas within the boundaries of the Stetson-Miami Terrace CHAPC.

Within the Shrimp Fishery Access Areas fishing with a shrimp trawl and/or shrimp possession is allowed by any vessel holding a rock shrimp limited access endorsement and equipped with an approved vessel monitoring system (VMS).

Creation of Shrimp Fishery Access Areas allowed the South Atlantic to establish deepwater CHAPCs while allowing a traditional fishery to continue without impacting deepwater habitat.

Below is information about the Shrimp Fishery Access Areas:

Tab Delimited Coordinates SHAPEFILE GOOGLE EARTH
Shrimp Fishery Access Area A SFAA_A.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ
Shrimp Fishery Access Area B SFAA_B.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ
Shrimp Fishery Access Area C SFAA_C.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ
Shrimp Fishery Access Area D SFAA_D.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ

Golden Crab Allowable Fishing Areas
The golden crab fishery has traditionally operated in deep water within the current Stetson-Miami Terrace CHAPC and Pourtales Terrace CHAPC off of east Florida.  To allow the golden crab fishery to continue, the Council created Allowable Golden Crab Fishing Areas within the CHAPCs.

Council staff met with industry representatives in fall 2007 to begin delineating the areas that would eventually become the Allowable Golden Crab Fishing Areas and Shrimp Fishery Access Areas.  A joint meeting of the Deepwater Shrimp and Golden Crab Advisory Panels was convened in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in January 2008 to review the alternatives and determine whether gear conflicts between the two fisheries would need to be addressed.  Subsequently, Council staff met with golden crab fishermen to continue the process of determining the best configuration for the Allowable Golden Crab Fishing Areas.  Golden crab fishermen also met with Council members and staff during the March 2008 Council meeting in Jekyll Island, Georgia, and a joint meeting of the Golden Crab and Deepwater Shrimp Advisory Panels was also held in conjunction with the September 2008 Council meeting in Charleston, South Carolina.

Allowable Golden Crab Fishing areas restrict the deployment of golden crab traps to traditional golden crab fishing grounds to avoid impacting deep water coral habitat.

Below is information about the Golden Crab Allowable Fishing Areas:

Tab Delimited Coordinates SHAPEFILE GOOGLE EARTH
Golden Crab Access Area A GCAA_A.txt Zip File ~6kb KMZ
Golden Crab Access Area B GCAA_B.txt Zip File ~2kb KMZ
Golden Crab Access Area C GCAA_C.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ
Golden Crab Northern Access Area GCAA_Northern.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ
Golden Crab Southern Access Area GCAA_Southern.txt Zip File ~3kb KMZ